A lot of things are coming to an end this week.
Given this is the last football practice this paper will cover until August, it seems appropriate to glaze over, like a fine Krispy Kreme doughnut, the things we have learned over the last four weeks.
First, we have learned the early enrollees are deserving of the hype. Chicago-area wide receiver Kyle Prater is taller than the Sears Tower (it will always be the Sears Tower regardless of its current name) and secretly has a jar of peanut butter he stashes in his shorts because his hands are stickier than Charlotte’s web.
His roommate, freshman running back Dillon Baxter, has shown he can be a big-time contributor in the fall. On a Saturday a few weeks ago, with a darting and dashing run, he changed from an inconsistent freshman still trying to find his way to the next Reggie Bush. Granted, that 52-yard touchdown run was against mostly backups and walk-ons, but it still shows the speed and agility Baxter brings to the program. Something tells me we won’t be missing Joe McKnight.
Second, we have learned Lane Kiffin is no Pete Carroll protégé. Even though he worked under Carroll for five years in the early part of last decade, he has his own ways of going about things. Practices are no longer open to everyone. Discipline and accountability have replaced the loose Southern California cool as adjectives that describes the program. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Ms. Trunchbull replace Will Ferrell as the frequent guest of honor at practices.
Along those lines, special teams will be better at USC than it ever has been before. Under Carroll, special teams seemed to be more of an afterthought. But at the beginning of almost every practice, everyone on the team goes through various special teams drills. I mean everyone. A few weeks ago, the offensive and defensive linemen were catching punts. Who knows, maybe Kris O’Dowd’s speed is the best kept secret at USC, and he’ll be back returning punts.
We also learned we really don’t know anything about the secondary. The area with the most questions coming into spring practice has the most going out. With three players — redshirt junior Marshall Jones, junior Drew McAllister and redshirt sophomore cornerback Brian Baucham — likely to contend for a starting spot sidelined for most of spring practice, many former backups and walk-ons have been getting a lot of reps.
Dual sport athlete Jawanza Starling has gotten heaps of praise from secondary coach Willie Mack Garza, as have junior Daniel Harper and Shareece Wright, the only senior in the secondary. The group has managed to pick off multiple passes from Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain over the four scrimmages USC has had, but we’ll have to wait and see until the fall how the injuries and lack of experience shape USC’s defensive backfield.
We’ve learned Devon Kennard might be the next big thing at linebacker for the Trojans. Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan (who are all returning) got the marjority of the reps at linebacker last year. But Kennard, who is a converted defensive end, has emerged as one of the best players to come out of this spring. Kennard had eight tackles and a sack in Saturday’s scrimmage, and Kiffin said he “looks like an NFL player now.”
Lastly, we’ve learned the success the team has had this year will be determined by the play of the veterans. Barkley, senior tailback Allen Bradford, senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson, Wright, Galippo, O’Dowd and senior fullback Stanley Havili anchor the team that is very difficult to rank in the Pac-10 and in the nation.
Some days, it looks like this team could contend for a national title. Other days, it looks like it might visit the Emerald Bowl again. But it will be the play and the leadership of this core group of experienced players that will be indicative of this season.
There are many other things learned from spring practice but there’s not enough space here to list them all. We will know a lot more after the spring game on Saturday and once the season starts rolling in the fall semester.
One thing we do know is, with a new coach, a top recruiting class and a more mobile Barkley, this will be one of the most interesting and intriguing seasons USC football has seen in a while.
Is it August yet?
“Spittin’ Sports” ran Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Kenny